It was an amazing first week filled with energy and hard work, and we still have a long way to go, but this project has potential. We have realized, after seeing boys and girls aged 4- 16 come in on a daily basis that they are all hungry to learn, all hungry for attention, but that their attention span is limited and their aggression ample, and their Spanish slang considerable!
That being said, we truly did have an amazing week. We have had more than 30 children come in through the center, looking for homework help, tutoring, English classes, art or dance programs, or perhaps simply for a place to sit and draw… (or run around and play soccer indoors.) Add to this that we had six adults show up to our first once-a-week adult English class! We also had some volunteers join us which proved to be incredibly helpful- I think what works best at the center is allowing the kids to have one-on-one time. They are already in crowded classrooms in school where they seem to do a lot of copying off the board, so it makes sense that they are responding to personal academic stimulation, and I hope to continue to offer even more of that as our volunteer base grows. We have been introducing new small projects every day, ranging from drawing and labeling the body parts to practicing writing numbers and letters to writing poems to playing endless games of rock paper scissors and “semaforo” (stoplight). Many of these children are tough to work with- they come from homes where they may or may not live with parents and where drugs and jail time are often present. We have some kids who live in conventillos- abandoned houses where numerous families squat, each family claiming a single room. Our first day, we watched as seven kids walked out the door, only to reappear an hour later. They told us that it was time to “take their milk”, and since we didn’t offer it, they had to walk down to the politically based community center that passed out milk for free. We now serve milk every day.
At this point, we seem to be okay on materials, although we are quickly running through Global Education Funds 60 donated Spanish books- the children love reading and are hungry for stories and pictures. What we need now are money and bodies- both more volunteers and more community members. We are trying to accomplish this by continuing to walk through the neighborhoods door-to-door, yet we have also been successful in this endeavor by simply keeping the center doors open… new neighbors walk in every day and return the next with more children. We have had women stop by to donate notebooks, parents come in to have conferences with us about the learning needs of their children, and an art professor from Mexico ask if he could teach formal art classes (of course we said yes!)
Even though we only have one week under our belt, we want and need to start thinking about how to make this project sustainable for the future- I already know at least twenty children and additional adults who will be let down if this program does not continue when Ali and I head back to the states in May. We have some ideas already- two important ones being coming up with a grant-funded position to allow someone else to continue doing our work on a daily basis, and raising enough money to move ACORN into their own center so that the offices and community programs can co-exist more easily. This would be an amazing accomplishment- there is actually a space available two doors down from us, but at $2000 USD a month, it is currently out of our budget. But, as Rossi told us two months ago when we started this project, the fight will be tough, but the results will be all the better for it. For me, seeing children waiting for us to open the doors to the center when we jump off the bus is the result that makes it worthwhile.